ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Garnell Whitfield Sr. still does not know his wife has died.
In his mind, perhaps, his wife, Ruth, will soon return to the Buffalo nursing home where she has religiously visited him for eight years.
He does not realize that, on Saturday afternoon, she left his side and decided to stop at her neighborhood Tops Friendly Markets in East Buffalo for groceries. He does not know that, during that quotidian supermarket visit, an armed gunman, clad in body armor, walked into the store with the apparent intent of killing as many Black people as possible.
Garnell Whitfield Sr. does not know that Ruth Whitfield, his beloved wife of 68 years, is now dead, one of 10 people fatally shot in that Tops.
“She left (the nursing home), to get groceries on her way home, and she encountered this evil,” her son, Garnell Whitfield Jr., said at a news conference Monday in Buffalo.
Whitfield Jr., a former Buffalo fire commissioner, said his family has yet to break the tragic news to his father.
“What do we tell our father? How do we tell him that the love of his life, his primary caretaker, the person who kept him alive for the past eight years – how do we tell him that she’s gone?”
Flanked by family members, some who were physically felled by grief and unable to speak, children and grandchildren of Ruth Whitfield on Monday told of her endearing love for her family, how she was the family’s very epicenter with a constant focus on their well-being. Some friends called them the Cleavers.
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Ruth Whitfield, at 86 years old, rarely left the house without ensuring she was immaculately dressed, her family said. She fished, she camped, she cooked an unmatched macaroni and cheese.
And she made sure that her family, as Black Americans, stood proud of their heritage and ancestry.
“To those people who do not see us, how dare you not see us as Americans?” said her son, Raymond Whitfield. “We stand among the blood and the sweat and the tears of our ancestors. She taught us to be proud of that fact.”
“She was unapologetically an African-American princess,” he said.
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Members of the Whitfield family acknowledged Monday that they were uncomfortable coming forward, putting themselves in front of dozens of media members with an accompanying phalanx of cameras from across the country.
“This was not an easy decision for us to go public,” Garnell Whitfield Jr. said. But, he asked, “how else can we honor our mother?”
The family, working with attorneys, is considering lawsuits against those involved in the firearms manufacture and transactions that put a semi-automatic weapon and high-capacity magazine into the hands of the accused 18-year-old killer.
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They also are scrutinizing the social media and even mainstream media platforms he digested: Some promoted white supremacy ideology, and some peddled what has become known as the “replacement theory,” a once-fringe theory that maintains there is an effort to “replace” white Americans and deprive them of influence.
“This was an act of domestic terrorism, perpetrated by a young white supremacist,” national civil rights lawyer Ben Crump said at the news conference. “There was no question about his intentions. And just like America responds to terrorism, America needs to respond to these … acts of bigotry, racism and hate.”
One of the family attorneys, Buffalo lawyer Terrence Connors, has successfully argued that gun manufacturers or distributors can be held liable in a criminal shooting. In that case, a New York appellate court found that there are exemptions within the standard legal immunity often afforded the firearms industry.
There must be some accountability for the death of Ruth Whitfield, her family said Monday.
“He took away my mother and my best friend,” said her daughter, Robin Whitfield. “How dare he? How dare you?
“This needs to be fixed.”
Follow Gary Craig on Twitter at @gcraig1.